Paradise is Fragile

We went to the Island Sunday, our fourth trip back since the temporary causeway was opened to residents. Each trip we recognize restoration to our Island community; there is less debris piled as high along the road and in some places the shared use path is clear and accessible.

The drive to our condo complex was clear of chest high debris consisting of broken remains of cottages from along the Gulf, cars, a van, mattress, all manner of furniture, appliances, and two enormous propane gas tanks. Yesterday was the first time since we evacuated on September 27, 2022 we were able to park our vehicle in a parking space in front of our building. The mulch-like matter that frosted our staircases like dirty icing made from crumbled roofing and sandy-silt has been mostly cleared away by the crews of workers that perform these tasks during the week. We were amazed not to have to scramble over waist high nail infested broken wood siding with our puncture-proof boots. It seemed child’s play to walk from our car to our condo without the hazards.

But hazards are still plentiful; the blackened remains of our downstairs neighbor’s condo where 8’-12’ storm surge whipped through their condos, tossing refrigerators, stoves and even full-size washing machines and dryers like dice. Our upstairs neighbors’ condo living room where now the insulation and roof lays on top of her sofa, chairs, coffee tables. A condo we stayed in while our new air-conditioning system was installed in July of this year. We watched the film Jaws over our dinner while the contractors completed our air conditioner instillation. These reflections remind us how very, very quickly life can change.

Our condo is unlivable and yet even in those portions that appear undamaged to our eyes we are very aware that what we don’t see can be the point of entry for evil black mold and its spores. We enter cautiously  and set about salvaging what we can from our home; those little insignificant items like my black eraser for colored paper that cost a whopping .75 cents I am tickled to bag, and a pair of drug store readers. The two mattresses that were saturated by the deluge from the collapsed ceiling we haul out, along with my large sheets of Italian Fabriano Tiziano charcoal paper some blank and waiting and some with full sized pastel and pencil drawings soggy to the touch and stained from pink insulation. Yes, I feel the chafe of the loss, but then I temper my emotions to our downstairs neighbor’s devastating loss, his condo is blackened and broken, nearly unrecognizable.

Everyone we know has been transformed by this epic natural disaster. We have had to become warriors soldering on through unimaginable disaster. The sights haunt my sleep like the silver aluminum sheathing quite possibly from a broken cottage roof wrapped around a palm tree like a colossal turkey drumstick from a giant’s barbeque.

What was once familiar is disorienting enough that new signs have had to be installed in front of businesses and neighborhoods as they are so very unrecognizable. We have all entered a cosmic Salvador Dali dreamscape, and yet even in this horrible topsy-turvy landscape are little vignettes of ethereal normalcy. The wildlife that were the icons of Sanibel are even more revered; for while humans have the means to rebuild their homes the habitat of gopher tortoise and snowy egrets is far more fragile.   

Fragile; life on a barrier island is fragile. Our lives, the wildlife we share the Island with are all fragile. Hurricane Ian is considered the most deadly hurricane in Florida history; for now. There will of course be other storms and while individuals debate the consequences of global warming, we and I mean each and every resident including endangered species of animals, we are all living that reality that some only witness on their television.


The Hare and the Mermaid 

Once, very long ago, in a time when clocks did not exist and Time was the dominion of the Sun and Moon, there were nefarious thieves that stole a ship. Up the coast they sailed never venturing too far from the sight of land for they were thieves; and not truly pirates. Pirates know the ways of the stars and the tides. Thieves they had always been, and when they came upon a prosperous village it was to their temple they sought to plunder. 

To this temple under the guise of night did they venture, where never under the full sway of the sun’s rays, dare to show their profane faces. The thieves thought little of the offerings made to an invisible Goddess, and though they could not see her for they were unworthy, She saw all they did.

She watched as they stuffed their sacks with her offerings, and in a way she was pleased. Now, by this act of sacrilege, by stealing her offerings they would release her from This Temple she had been tethered to like a dog to a stake in a yard.

The thieves freed her to wander like a cloud and this they wondered about how a cloud could follow them. Little by little she gently pushed them far from the land they had known all their lives to the middle of a vast and magnificent ocean, where their fresh water was diminished under the hot, hot sun. In this world of endless sea they began to panic and the larger ones survived this odious time until their craft landed gently on a tropical island.

The surviving members of the throng of thieves first thought was where to hide their stolen treasure and they notched the skin of an innocent palm tree with a symbol to claim this Island.  Much as these men believed all they saw was theirs for the taking, the animals that lived there knew these men were invaders. They smelled of the death they had inflicted on the smaller criminals of their gang. Once they had planted the treasure they stole from the Temple of the Goddess; now this was her home, her land, her temple.

Almost within moments the surviving members of the gang began to bicker and argue who was the leader and who owned the treasure, the island and even the craft they had crossed the sea on. Not long did they argue because these were men that understood the one who laughs last, laughs the longest. Knives were drawn and all that was achieved was plenty of food for the gulls and crabs to scavenge through.

The men were gone, the little ship pushed away with the outgoing tide and the Goddess sat on the sand and looked over her shoulder to where they had hidden their horde, hidden her offerings.  She wiggled her index finger and the sand fell away to reveal the gleam of golden treasures, jewels and coins.

The Hare that had lived there before returned gingerly, carefully and allowed the Goddess to stroke his silky coat and to caress his long ears. The Goddess smiled and laughed softly, gently she was pleased to be liberated. She leaned back and smoothed her luminous hands over her lithe legs and opalescent scales glazed over the surface of her legs. She had been tied to a temple in a dusty little village and now she was free to roam the sea.

The Hare slept on the treasure because it held the heat of the sun long after dark; and while the tides and seasons came and went the Hare never aged. He was always the same as when the Goddess and the treasure came to the Island. He grew to be a great and wise Hare that told the younger hares stories while their mothers were grazing in the cool evening shade. Often he would tell them of the Pirate’s Folly, but sometimes he would share stories the Mermaid murmured in her sleep that sounded like the soft rattle of cup-shaped scallops in the gentle lapping waves. Stories of where there lived rabbits that did swim beneath the sea, where the colors were so extraordinarily bright and vivid that the brightest day on land was as night to this marvelous new world of the Mermaid Goddess.

The Treasure Hare was painted on Arches’ 100% cotton hot pressed paper produced in France, as it has been for centuries. Watercolors are a collaboration of Sennelier produced in France, Winsor & Newton originally produced in England, and Schmincke iridescent watercolors produced in Germany.  The avarice of Dictators that blights the world’s peace all eventually fall to ruin while humble people strive to rebuild after the latest land grab. What I have learned from studying history is that Art, Art always lasts be it the Grecian statues housed in the world’s museums of fine art or the humble paintings of Vincent van Gogh. I strive everyday to produce good work, to be kind, and to be honest; these are qualities that I witnessed in my grandparents. I wish every child had such opportunities.  

The Heartless Queen

I am rapidly approaching the last few pages of a watercolor journal I began back in 2014. It was a bit large for putting in a carryon bag. It sat at home for many years with the occasional watercolor to try something new before I attempted it on my more precious; more expensive Arches cold press 100% cotton watercolor block.

My how the world has changed in the past eight years! I have had at least four cellular phone changes and with that technology came hundreds of photographs to document our travels in Europe, the Caribbean, and stateside from Santa Barbra, California to Key West, Florida.

In all those travels with a backpack in Florence, Italy and London, England that particular watercolor journal sat under appreciated, under used. What changed was my use of paper; the pandemic, lockdown and the shortages that followed. I began to count, literally count every single page of clean, unused paper in my journals; almost hording them sparingly as if frugality would change the topsy-turvy emotional rollercoaster of what a global pandemic will inflict on my subconscious. Cotton is grown in fields like corn or potatoes and people need to collect it and prepare it for processing. If people were too ill to work in factories, then all crops would suffer.

Paper; regardless of quality and cost is the means by which we document our lives; whether an inexpensive composition notebook from the grocery store in which I may record ideas or European cotton paper produced as it has been for hundreds of years in France. As modern as our world becomes I still like the tactile quality of paper; it is real, not an image on a screen.

Every instance we think the World has finally calmed down, or found a new normal rhythm something like a new wave of the dreaded modern plague we all know now simply as Covid is discovered perpetuating the waiting for normal.

Only we realized on February 24th that while we were waiting for the all clear to resume travel to European cities, revisit museums of international treasures of western culture, while we waited and waited an evil creature has been plotting to return his country to an imagined medieval glory. While everyone on the planet has been keyed up to leap forward he, and you know of whom I write, is attempting to turn the world backwards to an imagined, delusional vision of greatness.

We stand on the sidelines of history as this individual; who exhibits all the nasty, ungracious, psychotic behavior as the Queen of Hearts in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland film. While Wonderland needed The Alice to fight the Queen of Heart’s jabberwocky, what we may see is that for the citizens of Ukraine they are each and collectively The Alice battling a monster of mythic proportions.

We stand in awe of their determination and courage and praying that they succeed; that the jabberwocky will falter and will fail. We pray for Ukraine, we cheer for them because in our own hearts we recognize if this Heartless Queen wins this battle will it be enough? Sadly we know that there will be more and more this unappeasable monster will claim like coins dropped on a sidewalk during a scuffle.

What has this war shown me in relation to my art, is by all means paint the picture but do it in a notebook that will fit in a backpack, because we too may need to dodge bombs.      

A Wonder Moon

In childhood I never stopped wondering how the world we lived in was in like a great cosmic puzzle; how winter cold was essential to give a dormant period to northern perennials, and how the longer and warmer days of spring fostered the awakening of bulbs.  Life on the Gulf of Mexico has its seasons as well, and we have come to anticipate the cooler drier days of January and February along with the rainy season of August and September. What unites our new home with our former home and our friends still in the north is the nightsky.

The constellations may be different from one hemisphere to another, but the full moon is our beacon and nature’s as well. Many types of invertebrate sea life time their breeding season by the full luminous moon like coral and sponges. Sea turtles nesting season is timed so that the greatest light will be the moon over the ocean calling the hatchlings to their new home, that is unless ambient light disturbs this innate reaction.

What about humans? Before we had electricity or gas lights we had starlight and moonlight to guide us through our nocturnal journeys. For nautical travel by seas, knowledge of the night sky was fundamental for survival, now we rely on smart phones and GPS technology, while sea turtles navigate by instinct and inborn tracking system of our Earth’s magnetic field.

With all the opportunity that technology provides us, perhaps we should lay our phones and tablets aside occasionally and take time to enjoy the marvelous night sky the way people did hundreds of years ago. Wondering has it benefits, look what it did to elevate Albert Einstein; the more devices we have to do our thinking, the less thinking we actually do.

Wondering is what sets us apart from the wildlife; crows and ravens are notorious in their thinking and problem solving. Male Bowerbirds create elaborate glittering shrines of color to attract a mate, while male ospreys must prepare a substantial nest to woo a mate. With animals, their ingenuity and creativity is restricted to the cycle of the season. Animals are unable to change the thermostat or change the time to suit their whims, no the natural clock of the sun and moon dictate their days and nights. We as humans have a freedom not natural to nature; we have the luxury of play and will we fill that free time to take a quiz on our phone or will we walk the beach under star and moonlight? I’ll choose the moon and stars every time.  

My original watercolor is painted on Arches cold press paper with Sennelier watercolors, and deeper tones created with Schmincke gouache. After four months with acrylic paints I felt challenged by the fluidity of watercolor and even Beatrix Potter had confessed that oils (paint) spoiled her for watercolors.

While the lunar calendar refers to February’s full moon as the Snow Moon, we on a tropical island may refer to it as the Sand Moon. All the very best for the most enjoyable evening of star and moon gazing!           

A New Beast 

Welcome to 2022; our brand new year and while we may have in the past considered a new born baby to represent the New Year, I think after the past few years we should consider animals. It has been said of the month of March sometimes comes in like a lamb and leaves like a lion or the other way round. We’ve all seen lions at the zoo or in animal documentaries, we know what they are and we also know they can be a dangerous predator; lambs are the exact opposite and can be associated with virtues like calmness, innocence, and purity as in virgin wool.

If a year were like a voyage we would have considered that we had sailed off the map January 2020 because where we are in January 2022 is a world apart from New Year’s Eve 2019. Watch a film or even a television series before Covid-19 and we are awed by how close people stood to speak to each other, how they even kissed Grandma on the cheek or people met each other for the first time on blind dates without a mask; amazing. Here we are in a brand new year and all the previous years do not help us; we have no road maps or farmer’s almanac to help us through these strange and new situations we find ourselves in 2022.

In the novel by Daniel Defoe the protagonist Robinson Crusoe set to sea to win his fortune. Sadly it did not go well for him as in he was stranded on a tropical island for decades. He had no road map to guide his quest for food, shelter and even clothing. We are not quite that removed as in we can visit the grocery and in spite of some shortages we don’t have to catch our dinner in a handmade net. It is something to consider that we may not have all the conveniences we would like, but if we are healthy and able bodied than we have more in our favor than some others less fortunate.

I find it helpful to remind myself what I consider blessings. Blessings are seeing the glass half full instead of half empty. I have heard some people say, “I’m so bored!” admitting you were bored in my childhood home was like admitting you had a character deficiency. If you were bored, “Well, you best learn a skill to amuse yourself,” would have been the response. And so I paint. Sure I miss seeing our friends and family for such a long period of time but rushing is exactly why we are living in our bubbles still, like Robinson Crusoe on his tropical island.  

We are living our life healthy on Sanibel Island on the Gulf of Mexico and while we may experience a few inconveniences we are still thriving and engaged with life. My acrylic painting, The Seahorse is a brand new beast; this is the first time I have ever attempted to paint a horse, ever. Would I have had attempted it three years ago? I would say probably not, but having months to peruse and reread Leonardo di Vinci’s biography, to study his horse sketches for a monument that was never completed I had the courage to try. Courage is something that is essential when traveling a brand new path; I hope you all find yours.         

A Secret Place

The cave-like setting of Leonardo da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks at the National Gallery in London suggests a private or even a secret meeting of Mary and Jesus with Elizabeth and John. Secluded or even cloistered is the overall impression of the columns of natural, wild untamed rock mounting towards the heavens; like cathedral spires.

            While the scene is one of hallowed and most holy image of essential individuals in the story we now know as the Bible; the setting is a quiet, humble place. This secret location undisturbed by the conquests of emperors and kings is still virginal, pristine secluded from the world and yet a world unto itself.

The introduction of the element of water is fundamental, for while the birth of Jesus into biblical texts brings life to ancient writings so is water essential to all life. A look at the actual heavens via powerful telescopes it is the vision of blue planets that bring the greatest possibilities of life on other Earths. Water is essential for life. Water was also a symbol of Mary and at the root of her name is the meaning: drop of the sea. In the earlier version of Leonardo da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks at the Louvre in Paris the representation of the element water is smaller and darker whereas the painting at the National Gallery in London is buoyed up by the insertion of blue water in the background, Blue sky from whence rain may fall; again water is key to the difference of these two masterpieces.

My acrylic painting The Siren’s Lullaby, a.k.a., The Mermaid of the Rocks is a humble attempt in the shadow of Leonardo da Vinci’s greatest works. The solemnity and reverence I felt at seeing this massive painting is like entering a quiet cave, water reflecting on the ceiling, similar to what I felt in trespassing in a sea cave on the coast of California during a visit to Pismo Beach. I could see sea otters while they dined amid the kelp beds immediately off the beach. I was alone and the sounds of water rushing by and on the exposed rock were potential perches for sea lions to escape the sea to calve.  This cave could well be a potential nursery hidden from the world of man; a sanctuary that on my last visit was only accessible by boat for now even at low tide it was nearly submerged. Now it is a secret place, hidden from casual observation where a Siren may have the privacy to birth new life.  

I wish you all the chance to wonder at the mysterious day we call Christmas.  Bon Noel and a very Happy New Year!

A Dog’s Perspective

November’s full moon is just one day after the Great American Smoke Out; if you have ever lost a loved one to the tobacco habit or if you have overcome it yourself every full moon is an opportunity to celebrate life. This month I had the pleasure of having a copy of Calligrammes Poems of Peace and War (1913-1916) written by Guillaume Apollinaire to peruse. Seeing the way he had written the lines of poetry as shapes to tell a story immediately called to mind my own poem: Absent written from the perspective of the family dog. I too have seen loved ones fall ill and perish from the tobacco habit, just one is too many. Many of our friends and families have dogs that they need to walk and if they are smokers they will do so while out with their furry kids. What do our canine friends think of this unusual habit? We know that dogs do think, and can reason for we’ve all seen them barking while dreaming or waiting for their people to leave the house before helping themselves from the kitchen trash. If dogs could speak would they ask their humans to stop smoking? Below is my version of a calligramme:

I wish all your full moons to be bright, and beautiful. A Happy Thanksgiving!

A Scary Sea Story: The Mermaid’s Halloween Valentine

Beautiful Esmeralda loved her life swimming in the deep blue sea. She believed her luminous green tail was the most beautiful of all the Sirens, only she didn’t like them to feel inadequate. Esmeralda liked swimming with Cecily the green turtle as her shell was as lovely as a Siren’s tail. When it came to diving down deep,  Morgan the humpback whale, was the best choice, but what Esmeralda wanted most was someone to love all her own.

Esmeralda lay in the hull of a sunken craft and watched the boats sail overhead and she even swam in close to the beaches to see the people float on their rafts. She liked watching the small hammerhead sharks swimming in and around all the dangling toes. Just once she would like to give one of those pink toes a nibble to see how fast the humans would swim to the shallow waters of the sandy beach.  However, what Esmeralda really hungered for was a companion to have all to herself.  She looked endlessly for that someone special that would be all hers, someone who could see her and not be afraid.

The years went by and Morgan grew to be an older whale with a few grey whiskers on his chin and even Cecily was showing her years at sea. Her flippers were cracked and torn while Esmeralda’s tail was just as shinny and beautiful as it was five hundred years ago when the wooden ships crossed the seas. Now the metal sailing ships were like floating cities and Esmeralda was shy about revealing herself to a whole fleet of sailors, when she really just wanted one very special sailor.

It seemed to be the bane of her existence not to have a forever friend or even a mate. Cecily had had many partners over the past fifty years why couldn’t Esmeralda find just one? Beautiful day after stormy day and even the changes in the weather would not entertain her, would not engage her. Esmeralda went to the closest beach and thought of chucking it all, you know going two-legs, but just as she was ready to quit the life of a Siren she saw a little boat sail out where none of the other boats would go. Esmeralda did not know who was sailing, but he was her kind of sailor; fearless.

Esmeralda watched from beneath the surface as the sailor dove down deep. He swam to the sunken shell of a boat where she kept her collection of things she cherished. He pushed open the chest that held gold coins and jewelry and he filled a very large sack until it bulged. He then tried to stuff what he could into his pockets. He was running out of wind and his cheeks once full and round with air were now flat against his skull. He tried to swim up with his haul but he was unable to do so.

Esmeralda swam up to him and she shook her finger at him. She said clearly in her own language, “You should decide what the most important treasure is: air and life or gold and death?” 

He chose poorly. Now Esmeralda has a sailor to love. She keeps him safe in the chest with the gold coins and treasure at the bottom of the sea.

Happy Halloween

Original Image created on canvas with Holbein’s Aqua Duo Oil Paint

The First Artist

Say the word Art and nearly everyone has an image in their mind of what that is. For some people it may only be what is recognized as fine art, and for others it may be anything that is pleasing, thought provoking, or easy to look at. What about that moment when we first entered school and were given our own box of wax crayons to draw on a large white sheet of paper? It was usually after lunch when we were too old for naps, and yet we needed a transitional moment, a quiet time to unwind.

Remember the joy of holding those fat waxy crayons in our clumsy little hands, knowing in our minds what we wanted to draw and we only needed to get our hands to fulfill that desire. Now imagine you are the first person in your community to look at a bare cave wall and think, I know I could do something here, something amazing.  For those first artists without stores to shop at or a circle of like-minded folks, they must have felt totally alone and yet they still tried to do the impossible.

Everything from the pigments to create an image, to the tools to move the pigment was un-invented, unknown.  An unadorned wall is a rarity in our modern world where advertisers and social movements want to see their message. Every time we bicycle or walk past a wall mural or vintage barn painted with advertisements, we should think of those brave individuals that stood up in front of their entire clan to leave a masterpiece that 40,000 years later people are still marveling at, still coming to see.

Pigment; whether you are considering watercolor, oils, or even fine art pencils it is the pigment that was harvested from raw materials like stones, and even animals, that allows the artist to go beyond the crushed berry juice we may have tried as children.

Being an artist is not a hat you can try on and take off when it seems too large or the wrong style; no, being an artist is something that is innate to our very being. We today that can Google a product review to consider whether to purchase, we can thank those very first artists that had the courage to do what had never been done.

My simple sketch with pastel pencils on brown construction paper was initially begun as something else entirely but when the leads for these older pencils kept snapping and cracking and I had little flakes of pigment to work with, I did not give up, I did not get mad and throw the lot away, I thought, I imagine the first artist to draw on a cave wall would be thrilled to have these nonfunctioning pencils, and paper wouldn’t be invented for thousands of years, so stop whining and get busy. And that attitude may the biggest difference between regular, normal people and those willing to get their hands dirty, paint under their fingernails, and paint on their clothing because we are part of the tribe of artists. We have been here a long time and we haven’t finished illuminating our world through the glamour of art.

Camera Obscura 8.22.21

Camera obscura from the Latin meaning ‘dark chamber’ is a device that has been around for centuries. Our local library is back in business and I had the chance to revisit the works of Edgar Degas via books. I have visited exhibitions of Edgar Degas’s work in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Baltimore, Maryland, New York City, New York, and Paris, France as well. While it is the scenes of the ballet Edgar Degas is most celebrated for, he produced hundreds of images of women bathing. All composed as if seen through a keyhole, Degas’s own words.

Edgar Degas’s images of the ballet stage and lights seem to glow as if lit from within and yet he withdrew from these distinguished works to focus on women in the bath. Most are modest enough not to shock and yet that is what he liked to do; to stimulate the viewer.

Contrary to other Impressionists that flocked to the outdoors to paint en plein air with open sky above them; Degas was a creature seeking the dark. Edgar Degas was like a living camera obscura; sitting in the dark waiting for the image to be transformed in his mind. His ability as a draftsman is renowned and yet the hundreds of his tracings, the tracing paper augmented and enlarged to fit his final vision seem to suggest that the physical world did not contain the image he unyieldingly sought.

While we wait for herd immunity so that we may once again enjoy the society of others, theatre productions, and crowded musical venues we may feel as if we’re still living in our bubbles, our solitary dark chamber. This additional wait can be irritatingly like the film Groundhog Day and yet as that film explores the cosmic change that took place in Bill Murray’s character, we too can make a change for the better.

My re-acquaintance with pastels, specifically oil pastels is engaging, and challenging, and in the end I am rewarded for stepping away from my watercolors I enjoy on sunny days. The dark is not all gloomy because that is what draws out the glow of lightning bugs, our faces lit by candlelight, and even the luminous glow of the full moon. Summer is fleeting quickly by and we would do well to remember to savor it before the long nights of winter close us off from our solar star.      

My nocturnal bathing beauty is drawn on Fabriano Tiziano Pastel and Charcoal Paper with Caran d’Ache Luminance Pencils and accented with Sennelier Oil Pastels.